Kids grinding teeth in their sleep

August 06, 2021


‘Bruxism’ isn’t a word that’s usually on our lips, but it is something that’s often on parents’ ears. This is because bruxism is the medical term for ‘teeth-grinding,’ and it’s a common occurrence amongst sleeping children. 

In most cases, teeth grinding isn’t as bad as it sounds, and your child won’t damage their pearly whites or jaw muscles as they grind the night away. However, it is important that you don’t turn a blind ear to bruxism. 

Although most children grow out of the habit, there are times when an underlying cause or serious effect requires action, so let’s get to the root of things. 

Why do kids grind their teeth?

It’s estimated that up to 30% of kids will grind their teeth at some point (usually when they’re deep asleep), but it isn’t exactly known why this happens. 

If your little one is involuntarily clenching, grinding and gnashing during the wee hours, it might be because:

  • Their top and bottom teeth aren’t aligned
  • They’re feeling pain somewhere in their body (for example, they’re teething or have an earache), or
  • They’re feeling stressed or nervous (for example, a new sibling has arrived, or big school is about to start).

Having a medical condition like cerebral palsy, ADHD or even intestinal worms may increase the risk of tooth-grinding. Some medications have an effect and breathing problems during sleep might contribute to kids grinding teeth in sleep (for example, if your tyke has big tonsils or hay fever). 

How can you tell if your child is a tooth-grinder?

The obvious sign is aural, and although your child probably won’t hear themselves grinding away, you, your partner or their sibling might. 

Apart from listening out for bruxism, you should also take note if your child:

  • Complains of a sore jaw or face when they wake up
  • Says it hurts to chew, or
  • Has a problem with their teeth

Although most tooth-grinders don’t damage their teeth, if your tyke is grinding excessively hard and often, bruxism can cause:

  • Chipped or cracked enamel
  • Sensitivity to hot and cold food and drinks
  • Unusual wear and tear on the teeth

What should you do about bruxism?

If your tyke is gnashing in the night, have a chat with them before bed to see if they’re stressed about anything, and work through any problems they have. For example, if they’re nervous about starting at child care, you could read some comforting books on the subject and arrange a special visit to the service. 

If you’re concerned about your child’s tooth-grinding, particularly if it’s a regular occurrence, it’s best to see an expert. 

A good dentist will check your kiddo’s teeth and chart the best path forward – which sometimes includes a tooth-protecting nightguard if grinding persists. Dental care for kids is often free in the public dental system, and private dental care costs might be covered or reduced if you’re in a private health fund. 

A GP can also help to rule out problems like sleep apnoea, if your tooth-grinder snores loudly, mouth-breathes or gasps/chokes when they’re asleep. 

How long does tooth-grinding continue?

Although grown-ups can be tooth-grinders, most kids outgrow this habit as they get older, usually by the time their baby teeth are gone. 

Some kids keep grinding into teenage-hood, and although a physical cause like tooth misalignment can’t always be helped, you can sidestep stress-related bruxism by checking in with your child emotionally, talking things through, and taking positive action to ease their worries. 

Your child’s oral, and overall, health is a priority for your family, dentist and GP, and you can also rely on a quality child care centre to teach your little one good hygiene and communicate any health concerns with you.

To find a centre that genuinely cares, search Australia’s most trusted child care comparison site, Toddle. 

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